Sunday, May 26, 2019

The Test Run

Over the last few months, I formulated the theory that a marathon is not something that inflicts damage on you but something that gives you a tangible account of what has been inflicted on you. Perhaps that still sounds like a deft feat of double-speak. To put it another way, a marathon, to some extent, is a culmination of the time you spent preparing for it. If there are factors and stressors in your life that are nibbling away at you, they will surface over the course of the marathon.

I knew that I was less fit than I would have liked for the marathon I ran today, but I decided to run it anyway -- not to prove my theory right, but to actually see where I was mentally and physically in the middle of a stretch where I have not trained as much as I would like. When I woke in the morning I felt a bit nauseous and had a bit of a headache, two things that I'm not troubled by very often. I slowly found myself plodding into my warm up routine, hesitant for some reason. The nearest tangible excuse was the cold of my apartment, which was prompting me to put on a few more layers or get back under the covers. It was, after all, 5:15 am. 

I shook the reluctance off and got myself moving. As I drank my routine milk and followed it up with a sort drink I took note that the twingey left Achilles that needs a bit of warming up, was loose on this particular morning.

I started conservatively and did not push myself too hard to get out of the scrums of runners that might have been holding me back. I was very conscious early on, however, that I did not have the speed in my legs to reel people in and pass them the way I had in other race 2 or 3 years ago. Part of it was the lack of speed training throughout the year, but in the moment I didn't trouble myself with gaps in preparation. I was going to see where I was. That was the plan and the goal.

There were times when the body showed promise and strength, but as the morning progressed, I wore down more quickly that I would have liked. The first 7K of the race were done in about 37 minutes. Maintaining that pace throughout the morning would have been spectacular but in the late morning as the heat escalated on the unshaded final leg of the race I surrendered a bit more speed as the morning wore on. In retrospect, if I can use that would 8 hours after the fact, I knew the body wasn't ready. Friends were confident that a much faster race was possible, but I knew my body well enough. I finished in 3:53, 14 minutes off the time I ran two years earlier on a hillier route for this race.  I had a hunch. Actually I knew my body well enough. Not enough training, a less than ideal diet and may be just enough extra pounds to slow me down.

The mind though, that was a different story. During that race two years ago, despite the pace I ran, was a tougher battle and a less pleasant experience. Throughout the second half of that race in particular, I struggled with my expectations and reached a point where, within a kilometre of my door, I was ready to throw it in and call it a day. During this race, despite the disappointment of seeing my fitness exposed throughout the morning, I kept running throughout, save a brief break to deal with pain in my shoulders that I had not experienced during previous races. Every once in a while I pondered just walking it in, but I ran straight through and as the last kilometre appeared I actually found enough energy to pass a few fellow runners.

A few hours after the race I resumed reading a book that outlined 7 stages of processes, which included: Discovery and Encounter; Passion and Commitment; Frustration; and Retreat and Withdrawal. As I reviewed those stages, Frustration was familiar, but I was recalling it from May 2017 rather than today. At the moment I am probably in the stage of Retreat and Withdrawal. The question is whether it is a stage that has been underway for a few hours or a few months. If I have discerned the book's account of Retreat accurately, then pondering time on a yoga mat... okay committing to time on the mat is a sign that this stage will be constructive.

The most comforting thing today, however, is the reassurance that my head kept me moving rather than capsized me with the doubts and the broken record that played during this race 2 years ago.  I'm not sure if it was a consequence of my mental outlook today or not, but after finishing the race, a few of the volunteers told me - despite my medal and race bib - that I looked like I did not run the race.  One even mused about whether or not I was eligible of a race recovery nibble given the condition I appeared to be in. The body ached in new places today, but I looked fresh. If that was a reflection of the mental ease I managed today, good.

Now give me my waffle!

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Making Better Time But Still -- You Guessed It -- Lost

William Jevons
Continuous improvement is something that is valued and pursued in a wide range of realms and endeavours. Whether it is the fuel efficiency of a vehicle, the responsiveness of an organization to change and opportunity or our individual personal development, we strive for more or better.  Whether it is a matter of survival or more personal satisfaction, it is an end that we are eager to pursue.

In the case of fuel efficiency, however, the benefits have not always resulted in the outcomes that were envisioned. While the improved efficiency ought to result in lower consumption, the efficiency actually results in a consumption increase because the improved efficiency encourages an increase in consumption rather than a decrease. Think of the instance where you drive more because you have a fuel efficient car. That increase in driving can actually result in great fuel consumption in your econobox because of that confidence about the lower rate of consumption.

The phenomenon is not a unique one. Jevons' Paradox describes this as it applies to technology or other initiatives where the efficient management and use of resources is pursued and the outcomes result in increased demand for the resource. The paradox was first identified during the industrial revolution when efforts to improve the efficiency in the burning of coal resulted in increased consumption of the resource. The paradox has also been cited in reference to oil consumption in the last 40-50 years.

It could probably apply to time as well. When you consider the household efficiencies that have been generated by modernization of home appliances, it is sad to acknowledge that families still feel as, actually more, harried and hurried than they were before these innovations were introduced. This is one instance that makes me think believe that Jevons' paradox, or a similar insight, applies to personal improvement as well.

If, in the course of personal growth, we eschew the heavy lifting in favour of more superficial tweaks to habits or routines. If we were to view personal growth through the lens of Jevons Paradox, those minor adjustments of habit may only result in being able to hurry up a little more and panic a little more efficiently. An effort to reconsider your methods managing stress, for example, would require a deep look at your coping mechanisms and the stressors you may risk exposing yourself too. If the "dive" required to examine what you currently do and how you might adapt seems too much trouble, you may defer that self-examination in favour of switching to decaf after 2pm or something else that is of a relatively superficial nature. You can identify and brag about the change that you have made but there is a decent chance that your methods of managing stress remain untouched.  If there is a sense that there is a new capacity or efficiency that has been opened up by a small chance of habit, there is the distinct chance that, as would be the case with a Jevons paradox response, that you risk either supporting the continuation of poor and worsening stress management habits or feel you can take on more stressors.

Personal growth ought to be about potential rather than efficiency. Identifying, acknowledging and cultivating the potential that one has would be far more productive that more changing a bad habit here and there. If all that we manage is a change in efficiency look back to the household scenario where a change of efficiency without a change in priorities, does not allow a transformation. The opportunity to -- in this case -- slow down, is not seized upon. Personal improvement, ideally, transforms rather than hones.